Known as the Queen City of the Ozarks, Springfield, Missouri is a place that gets its fair share of visitors. That’s no surprise. It offers easy access to the seemingly endless network of wetlands that make up the Ozarks, one of America’s premier outdoor destinations.
But there’s more to Springfield than just its surroundings. Although the city itself is smaller than Kansas City, the state’s largest urban area, it still has its share of attractions. For instance, the Fantastic Caverns are well worth a visit. You can take a train ride through these underground passages rich in geological formations and fossils. You can also get a glimpse of history at Smallin Civil War Cave, or check out memorable exhibits at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
Springfield is also known as the birthplace of Route 66. And while this legendary road is no longer active in the same form as it once was, it still makes for what may be one of the world’s most iconic road trips. So while there may be quicker routes from Springfield to the West Coast, none are more legendary than this one. Pack up the RV and head west on Route 66 to discover an iconic American road trip.
Route 66 once ran across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles. But it was in Springfield, Missouri where the road was named in 1926. The colonial hotel where the telegram naming the road was sent from has since been demolished, but Springfield still pays homage to its part in the making of the Mother Road.
Before even leaving the city, get yourself in the mood for your epic adventure by visiting the Route 66 Car Museum. Over 60 classic cars shine under the bright lights of this attraction, a testament to the car culture of 20th century America. In fact, some of the earliest cars in the collection date back even further, to the end of the 19th century. The museum is also home to some cars made famous by film and television, such as the bat car from the Batman TV series, the Cadillac from the Ghostbusters movie, and the zombie protection truck from the Resident Evil movies.
Even if your interest in cars isn’t particularly deep, you’re bound to find something to surprise and entertain you here.
Did you know that Tulsa is the center of the universe? Well it is. Or more correctly, it has a place that is known as the Center of the Universe within the city. This concrete circle doesn’t make for the most dramatic picture opportunities, but it does have some unique acoustic properties that make it worth a visit. Standing in the center of the circle, any noise you make will be bounced back to you at far greater volume. Meanwhile, people outside of the circle will hear any sound you make as being greatly distorted.
As well as being the center of the universe, Tulsa also offers the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Blue Whale of Catoosa, a large lakeside sculpture that makes a fun playground for kids. All in all, this city makes a welcome stop on your long trip.
Oklahoma City is one of those towns that often passes under the radar for travelers. Which is a shame, because this city has lots to offer visitors.
One of the more unusual attractions is the OKC Underground. Opened in 1974, this is a network of tunnels and skywalks that connect many of the buildings downtown to one another and protect pedestrians from extremes of weather. These passages are more than simply functional. The underground is home to a variety of subterranean businesses, including a Chinese restaurant and a bank. Thanks to the efforts of the Downtown Business Improvement Association, the tunnels also host many photography and art exhibitions.
Above ground, it’s well worth exploring the Bricktown area. Once a warehousing and industrial area, this district is been transformed, with the old brick buildings making the perfect locations for trendy bars and restaurants. You can even take a water taxi along the canals to get a unique view of this bustling area.
Continuing west on what used to be Route 66, you’ll reach Amarillo. While this town may not be the biggest you’ve ever visited, it certainly has a unique charm you won’t find anywhere else. Amarillo embraces its desert setting. By now, you’ll be a long way away from your Ozark starting point, and in the dry landscape of Amarillo, you’ll certainly feel it.
A great attraction to visit while you’re here - and totally in keeping with your Route 66 road trip theme - is the Cadillac Ranch. This art installation is made up of 10 old cars half-buried in the desert. The cars are covered in graffiti, making them a colorful location for photos. Feel free to bring your own paint and leave a mark on the cars yourself - graffiti is encouraged here.
For more automotive-related fun, check out Bill’s Backyard Classics, a museum of vintage cars that keeps alive the memory of the vehicles that once traveled along Route 66 in its heyday. Alternatively, if the wide-open spaces of the desert are calling to you, don’t miss this opportunity to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park just outside the city.
While you’re in the area, a great place to stay is the Amarillo KOA. The spacious sites can accommodate RVs up to 90 feet in length, and full hookups are available as well as sites with only water or electricity. Although this is a large park, it’s always a good idea to make reservations in advance.
If all this urban exploration has you hankering for some time in nature, you’re in luck. How does one and a half million acres of wilderness sound? Because that’s what Carson National Forest offers.
Located in northern New Mexico, Carson National Forest offers miles upon miles of hiking trails to explore. Watch out for local wildlife, which includes deer, mountain lions, black bears, bighorn sheep, and more. The scenery is just as spectacular as the wildlife, offering mountains carpeted with pine forests and meadows brimming with wildflowers.
Any anglers in your party will be glad they came. The Rio Pueblo River runs through the forest and has an accessible fishing dock where you can drop a line for rainbow trout. There are also several small lakes throughout the forest where you can try to make a catch.
The forest was once home to the ancestral Puebloan people. Evidence of their culture dating back past the 13th century can still be seen today in the forest at the Pot Creek cultural site.
With so much to see and explore here, it’s probably for the best that Carson National Forest boasts multiple campsites. Agua Piedra campground is the largest of them, but you could also choose Elephant Rock or Fawn Lakes.
Compared to Carson National Forest, Petrified Forest seems positively tiny. But it’s not the size of the park that has seen it added to the register of National Parks, but its unusual features.
As the name implies, this National Park is a great place to see petrified wood. The Rainbow Forest visitor center offers you a chance to see some of the most impressive specimens, along with a variety of fossils collected in the park. This colorful desert landscape is as ancient as it looks, and the park has remained virtually unchanged for millions of years.
The park is also home to some significant Puebloan ruins. These can be explored via the short trails that run through some of the park's most popular areas. However, if you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can go off-trail and explore this impressive landscape for yourself. Just remember to bring a map and plenty of water.
After all this time outside, you may find yourself missing the conveniences of the city. In that case, you’re in luck. As you continue to follow the path of Route 66 across the Southwest, your reach the bustling metropolis of Phoenix.
If the weather is hot - and it often is in Phoenix - escaping the sun in favor of some air-conditioned indoor activities might be in order. In that case, you should visit the Phoenix Art Museum and its impressive collection of visual art. For something a bit more specialist, the Musical Instrument Museum displays - you guessed it - a variety of musical instruments from a range of historical periods.
If history is more your thing, check out the Pueblo Grande museum. This facility, with its reconstructed Pueblo Village, allows you to get a better sense of the lives of the Puebloan people after the ruins you encountered in the desert on the way to Phoenix. And who can resist the Mystery Castle? This unique home, constructed solely from found materials, is a Phoenix landmark.
Despite being a big city, Phoenix is astonishingly RV friendly. You won’t need to go far to find a place to park your rig for a night or more. In fact, Phoenix is well known for being a place where some people live the RV lifestyle all year round. Once you've seen it for yourself, you’ll understand the temptation.
After an epic journey along what used to be Route 66, it’s almost time to leave the legendary Mother Road and head for your destination. But first, why not stop off and stretch your legs at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park? This close to San Diego, you may be tempted to hurry on to your destination, but it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to take in some of this incredibly scenic California wilderness.
The dense forest and glittering waters of this park will seem extra vibrant after the desert scenery you passed through to get here. The park is also home to Cuyamaca Peak, a 6500 foot mountain that towers over the surrounding countryside.
With around 100 miles of trails, this park is a hiker’s paradise. It also has plenty of bike trails for those who prefer their recreation on two wheels. Thanks to its varied ecology, it’s also a great place for wildlife watching, and is home to species such as mountain lions, bears, deer, and vultures.
Finally, at the end of a truly epic Route 66 road trip, you’ll reach San Diego and the glittering Pacific Ocean. As stunning as the West Coast scenery is, San Diego offers more then pretty views. As a vibrant tech hub, San Diego is a city with a definite buzz. After all the fun you had getting here, you may well find your adventure is only just beginning.